One of the most common title capitalization questions is whether the should be capitalized in a title or heading. The answer seems simple: articles are not capitalized in title case, so a, an and the should always be lowercase. However, what if a title contains a proper name that starts with the, for example, “The Beatles” or “The New York Times”? This will be discussed in this article, but let’s look at the standard case first.
The as a Regular Article
There are two title case rules that all styles have in common: 1) capitalize the first word, 2) lowercase all articles. The first rule takes priority, so the should be not be capitalized in titles unless it is the first word.
Back to the Future
The Empire Strikes Back
Many title case styles also have a rule to always capitalize the last word of a title. However, a title cannot end with an article unless it is incomplete, and as I have argued in a separate article, the should not be capitalized in this exceptional case.
The Good, the Bad, and the …
The in Proper Names
As already mentioned, there is also a special case: Proper names starting with the. Often, proper names are set off in quotation marks or italics. In that case, they can be seen as a title within a title, so their first word is capitalized:
Trauma and Violence in The Waste Land
A Review of “The War of the Worlds”
However, what about proper names that are not set off in quotation marks or italics? Typical cases are the names of music groups (The Rolling Stones) and of periodicals (The Washington Post). Most style guides have rules for one or both of these. While these rules typically do not mention headings, it seems safe to assume that such proper names are handled the same in continuous text and headings.
The in Band Names
APA, AMA and the Bluebook do not cover the capitalization of the in band names. On the other hand, AP, CMOS, MLA, New York Times and Wikipedia address this topic, either explicitly or through examples, and they all provide the same guidance: lowercase the in band names. (AP has a curious exception though: the is capitalized in “The Who.”) In detail:
- The Ask the Editor forum at the AP website features multiple questions and answers regarding the in band names. They are in agreement that the is usually lowercased, with “The Who” being a notable exception (source 1, source 2 – subscription required).
- The Chicago Manual of Style covers this topic in section 8.67 (“Institutions and companies—capitalization”), and lists several examples, including “the Beach Boys” and “the Who”. In addition, there is a relevant FAQ entry at the Chicago Manual of Style website.
- The MLA lowercases the in band names as well, as the following example from the MLA Style Center shows: “ ‘You say you got a real solution,’ the Beatles sing in ‘Revolution 1.’ ”
- The New York Times Manual states, “Lowercase the in the names of organizations, companies, schools, restaurants, hotels, etc.” Arguably, this includes band names, and a look into the NYT archive confirms this assumption (e.g., The Fashion Sway of the Rolling Stones).
- The Wikipedia Manual of Style states, “Mid-sentence, per the MoS main page, the word the should in general not be capitalized in continuous prose, e.g.: Wings featured Paul McCartney from the Beatles and Denny Laine from the Moody Blues.”
The following example illustrates this:
The Long Lost Shop Popular with The Who and the Rolling Stones
Chicago, MLA, New York Times, and Wikipedia style:
The Long Lost Shop Popular with the Who and the Rolling Stones
The in the Names of Periodicals
There are three methods of handling the in the names of newspapers and other periodicals: 1) Capitalize the and do not italicize the name (AP, New York Times), 2) Capitalize the and italicize the complete name (AMA, APA, Bluebook, MLA, Wikipedia), 3) Do not capitalize the and italicize the rest of the name (Chicago Manual of Style). In detail:
- According to the 55th edition of the AP stylebook, the should be capitalized in the name of a newspaper “if that is the way the publication prefers to be known” (p. 206). The name should not be italicized since the AP does not use italics as a matter of principle (p. 161).
- The APA tweeted: “Remember: Capitalize and italicize the names of journals, newspapers, and magazines in #APAStyle,” and the AMA added: “AMA style too!”
- The Bluebook mentions in section B2 that titles of publications should be italicized or underscored, “such as The New York Times.”
- The Chicago Manual of Style states the following regarding periodical titles: “an initial the, even if part of the official title, is lowercased (unless it begins a sentence) and not italicized” (section 8.168).
- The MLA gives the following guidance on its website: “When the title of a periodical (journal, magazine, newspaper) begins with an article (A, An, The), […] the article is italicized and its first letter capitalized.”
- The New York Times Manual states that the article in newspaper, magazine and journal names should be capitalized; however, the names should not be italicized (pp. 211, 258).
- The Wikipedia Manual of Style stipulates that italic type should be used for the names of periodicals, and this includes a leading A, An, or The.
Here is an example to demonstrate the differences:
AP and New York Times style:
Pulitzer Prize Awarded to The New York Times
AMA, APA, Bluebook, MLA, and Wikipedia style:
Pulitzer Prize Awarded to The New York Times
Pulitzer Prize Awarded to the New York Times
An exception to keep in mind is that the should not be capitalized when the periodical name is used as a modifier, as for example in “the New York Times article.” Here, “the” refers to “article,” not “New York Times.”